WAPA moves to outsource all water desalination to Seven Seas
Published: May 26, 2010
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ST. THOMAS — The V.I. Water and Power Authority voted Monday to outsource all of its water desalination territorywide to Seven Seas Corp. — a move that is expected to cut its water production costs in half.
WAPA Assistant Executive Director Glenn Rothgeb said the details of the deal have not yet been hammered out, but he expects customers to see “significant savings.”
In 2009, WAPA spent $26.5 million to produce potable water. Seven Seas Corp. is expected to produce enough water to serve all Virgin Islands customers at an annual cost of $11 million to $14 million.
Seven Seas Corp. will use reverse osmosis to filter seawater into drinking water. Currently, WAPA uses a system that distills salts and other solids out of water by applying heat. That system is nearly three decades old and relies on steam provided by WAPA’s generators. When the generators go down, so does water production.
“The reverse osmosis system is not dependent on steam as the power source,” WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said. “The problems that we’ve had in the past wouldn’t affect water production.”
Reverse osmosis passes water through a thin membrane to filter out salts and other solids.
Seven Seas already is already producing 1.5 million gallons of water per day for WAPA on St. Croix in a system unveiled in June. St. Croix’s water is currently a blend of half-distilled, half-reverse osmosis water.
Reverse osmosis leaves more salt behind in the water than distillation does. The salts left behind make the water taste different, Rothgeb said, but the difference is minimal.
Seven Seas was one of six companies that responded to a request for proposals for a reverse osmosis system that WAPA sent out in September.
Asked how the Seven Seas contract would affect the jobs of WAPA’s water system employees, Rothgeb said it is “premature to say.”
Board members Juanita Young, Cheryl Boynes-Jackson, Brenda Benjamin and Noel Loftus voted to approve the contract with Seven Seas, as did V.I. Personnel Director Kenneth Hermon, who is a member of the board. Board member Donald Francois abstained. Housing, Parks and Recreation Commissioner St. Clair Williams and Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Robert Mathes, also members of the board, were absent from the meeting.
The board also voted to:
• Approve purchasing $1.8 million in parts for Unit 23, a 42-megawatt generator, from General Electric.
• Authorize establishing a 457(b) retirement savings plan for employees to supplement their Government Employees Retirement System benefits.
All employees will be eligible to participate in the program, but WAPA will not match contributions employees make.